From planting to harvest, garlic requires a long growing period, so after a long winter filled with anticipation, it gets really exciting come harvest time!
- Around late spring/early summer, garlic leaves naturally begin to turn brown. Once you see this happening, stop watering.
- With the exception of Asiatic and turban types, when the tops are 30%–50% yellow or brown, garlic bulbs are ready to harvest. This is typically in July and August, although, different cultivars have different maturing times, so use the leaf color change as your ultimate guide. Asiatic cultivars should be harvested as soon as they show signs of browning. Allowing more than 50% of the leaves to yellow or brown before harvest makes bulbs more susceptible to decay (reduces storage life) and cloves separating (difficult to harvest).
- Harvest when the soil is on the drier side, if possible. Less wet soil attached to bulbs makes them easier to clean and less susceptible to rot.
- To harvest, lift the bulbs gently with a flat-tined digging fork or a shovel, digging wide to avoid cutting into them. Handle bulbs gently because although they feel rock-hard, they bruise easily.
- Remove any damaged cloves and gently brush off loose soil, but leave the roots and foliage/greens attached.
Curing and Trimming
Although it's tempting to use freshly harvested garlic, curing improves flavor (more complex and less sharp), makes cloves much easier to peel, and is needed for storability, so don't skip this step!
If you would like to braid your softneck garlic, this is the best time to do it. Skip Curing and Trimming instructions and go right to Braiding Garlic, as the garlic will cure in the braid. Hardneck garlic can be braided after it cures; tips for creating a hardneck garlic braid are also below.
- Hang bulbs by the greens in bundles of up to 20 using a slip knot that tightens as stems and leaves dry down and shrink. You can also lay garlic bulbs on screens in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, out of direct sun. In either case, leave for 3 to 4 weeks until the roots and shoots have dried down. Check for and remove any moldy bulbs regularly to prevent any mold from spreading.
- Allow space between bulbs or bundles for good air circulation. In humid climates consider running a fan in the room while bulbs dry to help prevent any mold.
- Clean off any residual soil from the roots by rubbing them with your fingers. If the skin has a lot of residual soil, remove as little skin as possible while cleaning, the skin protects bulbs for better and longer storage. Trim the stem back to *¼" and roots as short as you feel comfortable, without cutting into the bulb.
*If you wish to braid your hardneck garlic, trim the thick stem leaving about 1"–2" to work with.
Few things are more beautiful in the kitchen than a hand-crafted, decorative garlic braid. It adds a wonderful aroma to your kitchen and keeps a very common staple within arm's reach.
Braid softneck garlic greens shortly after harvest. Use a soft surface to avoid bruising bulbs. Work more garlic into the braid as you go, similar as you would when French braiding hair. You can also add flowers that dry well (like zinnias, amaranth, or bachelor buttons) as you braid for colorful decoration. Then hang the braid or lay it on a screen to cure for 3 to 4 weeks in a well-ventilated, dry area, protected from sun and moisture. If you add fresh flowers to the braid, laying braids flat will help soft flowers to keep a more natural form when they dry. Once the bulbs are cured you can cut away roots and excess leaves, if desired.
You can achieve the look of a braid with hardneck garlic. After curing, trim the hard stem to about 1"–2". Use several pieces of string, twine, or ribbon, create a loose braid, a little shorter than you want the garlic braid to be, with a loop at the top for hanging. Using the same material, tie a piece to the of neck on each bulb, and weave the bulbs into the braid, with any flowers, creating the same pretty effect of a garlic braid.
Properly cured garlic can be stored for several months to a year depending on the cultivar and conditions. A cool, dry, well-ventilated place such as a basement or pantry usually work well. For longest-term storage, keep garlic between 35°F and 40°F with 60–70% relative humidity after curing.